The Whitworth, Manchester

The Whitworth, part of The University of Manchester, reopened on 14 February 2015  following a £15 million redevelopment project by MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects), that has transformed the 125 year old Whitworth into a 21st century gallery in the park.

The redevelopment, which has been supported by a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant, The University of Manchester and other funders, has doubled public space and created state-of-the-art new facilities including expanded gallery spaces, a study centre, learning studio, and a collections centre. Leading with a major solo exhibition from one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Cornelia Parker, the opening programme celebrates the Whitworth’s eclectic and extensive collection of historical and contemporary fine art, textiles and wallpapers.

The Redevelopment

At the heart of MUMA’s major redevelopment project is the creation of an elegant glass, stainless steel and brick extension, which sees two wings extend into Whitworth Park from the back of the existing 19th century building. For the extension, MUMA have developed a unique Whitworth blend of British brick and a brickwork pattern with a traditional textile slash work effect, inspired by the gallery’s extensive textile collection.

Drawing on the Whitworth’s heritage as the first English gallery in a park, the new wings create an art garden between them and are connected by a glass promenade gallery overlooking the surrounding landscape. The landscape gallery wing provides exhibition space for the display of landscape works and large scale sculptures. Across the promenade, a beautiful linear café extends into the trees in Whitworth Park. A large window in the centre of the existing building reveals a sight line into the main exhibition space, connecting the gallery to the surrounding park beyond.

This increased exhibition and public space allows the Whitworth to show, share and care for its significant collection of over 55,000 historical and contemporary works. A new environmentally sustainable collection storage area has been created in the lower ground floor, including a public collections access area. Extensive refurbishment of the existing gallery building has restored the volume of the three 19th century barrel-vault exhibition gallery ceilings enabling the display of major, large scale shows. Visitors can now also gain access to the reinstated Grand Hall on the first floor through glorious Edwardian staircases returned to public use for the first time in over 50 years.

A £1.8m grant from the Arts Council England has completed the refurbishment with an improved entrance to the gallery on Oxford Road and Sculpture Terrace with works by Bernard Schottlander (Terminal, c.1965) and Gustav Metzger (Flailing Trees, 2009).

The Art Garden

A new Art Garden and an Orchard Garden have been designed by Chelsea gold medalist Sarah Price, who co-designed the 2012 Olympic Park gardens in London and will be completed in spring 2015. Grasses and perennial plants in the Art Garden will keep sight lines open whilst creating a sense of depth. Loosely clipped, evergreen hedging will be arranged to form rolling, distorted clouds varying in height and shape. The hedging will be designed to look interesting from every angle and suggest partially enclosed interior spaces, creating backdrops suitable for displaying outdoor artworks. Extending the exhibition space beyond the gallery walls, a significant number of new outdoor sculptures by artists including Christine Borland, Nate Lowman, Simon Periton and Nico Vascellari from a recent donation of 90 works from The Karpidas Foundation will go on permanent display in the Art Garden. The enclosed Orchard Garden and wildflower area will offer a place for relaxation and reflection as well as support the Whitworth’s work to promote the biodiversity of the park.

Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth says: “We have long held the view that the gallery and the park should be a unified experience for our visitors. Our new building makes this a reality. The opening programme, led by Cornelia Parker’s remarkable exhibition, captures the spirit of the Whitworth – a place where marvellous, eclectic art works connect to people and our place in Manchester.”

Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor, The University of Manchester adds:
“The £15 million expansion of the Whitworth is a fantastic example of The University of Manchester’s commitment to using its knowledge and resources to engage with our local audiences and to draw people from all over the world to the University and the city.”

Stuart McKnight, MUMA says: “The brief for the Whitworth offered a unique opportunity to capture the qualities of the surrounding landscape. The extension not only connects with the park, creating an outdoor gallery – an Art Garden – it also acts as a pressure relief allowing us to reconfigure and rationalise the existing building. In this way, whilst we are extending the building by one third, we are actually doubling the area available to the public.”

Sara Hilton, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North West, says: “We at HLF are delighted with the transformation of the Whitworth. By reconnecting the gallery with its surrounding landscape and creating an exciting programme of events and activities, local people and visitors will be better able to appreciate and enjoy the full Whitworth experience.”

Alison Clark-Jenkins, Director North, Arts Council England adds: “This is a significant development for the Whitworth and we are pleased to be part of such a landmark project in the city. Our capital investment funding supports organisations to develop resilience by giving them the right buildings and equipment to deliver their work, and to become more sustainable. We are looking forward to seeing how this new phase of the galleries story further contributes to the world-class cultural offer in Manchester.”